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Freak sandstorm causes deadly pile up in Germany
The News - Climate-Environment
April 09, 2011
freak sandstorm germany pile up

A freak sandstorm that swept across a motorway in northern Germany caused a multiple pile-up, leaving eight people dead and dozens injured.

Sand and dirt were blown on to the four-lane A19 near Rostock, close to the Baltic Sea in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania state, on Friday.

The pile-up involved 80 cars and three lorries, with 20 vehicles set ablaze.

A combination of recent dry weather, ploughing of fields and high winds was blamed for the accident.

At least 41 people were hurt. Many suffered serious injuries and there are fears the death toll could rise.

 
End to Japan nuke crisis is years, a fortune away
The News - Current Events
April 09, 2011
nuke nuclear sumbol japan crisis disaster

Once Japan's leaky nuclear complex stops spewing radiation and its reactors cool down, making the site safe and removing the ruined equipment is going to be a messy ordeal that could take decades and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Radiation has covered the area around the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant and blanketed parts of the complex, making the job of "decommissioning" the plant - rendering it safe so it doesn't threaten public health and the environment - a bigger task than usual.

Toshiba Corp., which supplied four of Fukushima's six reactors, including two on which General Electric Co. collaborated, submitted a roadmap this past week to the plant's operator for decommissioning the crippled reactors. The study, done with three other companies, projects that it would take about 10 years to remove the fuel rods and the reactors and contain other radioactivity at the site, said Keisuke Omori of Toshiba.

That timeline is far faster than those for other nuclear accidents and contains a big caveat: The reactors must first be stabilized and cooled, goals that have eluded emergency teams struggling with cascading problems in the month since the devastating tsunami damaged their cooling systems. Omori said the extent of damage to the reactors and other problems still need to be assessed.

 
NASA Telescopes Join Forces to Observe Unprecedented Explosion
The News - Science-Astronomy
April 09, 2011
cosmic blast gamma ray black hole
Astronomers are puzzling over an extraordinary cosmic blast in a distant galaxy.

The gamma-ray explosion was observed on March 28 by NASA's Swift satellite. Flaring from such an event usually lasts a couple of hours.

Scientists say this blast is unusual because the effects are long-lasting. More than a week later, they continue to see high-energy radiation spiking and fading at the source.

The burst was likely caused by a star that was ripped apart after drifting too close to a supermassive black hole.

Since the explosion, the Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory have focused on the aftermath. Hubble will observe if the galaxy's core changes brightness in the coming days.

The galaxy is 3.8 billion light years from Earth. A light year is about 6 trillion miles. [ NASA ]

 
Japan to pump radioactive water into sea until Sunday
The News - Climate-Environment
April 09, 2011

Japan will pump radioactive water into the sea from a crippled nuclear plant until Sunday, a day later than previously planned, its nuclear safety agency said.

The announcement came a day after China expressed concern at the discharge of contaminated water from the Fukushima Daiichi plant smashed by last month's earthquake, reflecting growing international unease over the month-long nuclear crisis.

 
Video shows tsunami crashing into Fukushima nuclear site
The News - Natural Disasters
April 09, 2011
fukushima nuclear plant tsunami
A brief video clip released Saturday captures the massive tsunami that crippled Japan's Fukushima Daiichi power plant, showing the wall of water that slammed into the facility and created an ongoing crisis.

The video shows the giant wave generated by the historic March 11 earthquake crashing over the plant's seawall and engulfing the facility, with one sheet of spray rising higher than the buildings that house the plant's six reactors. Tokyo Electric Power, the plant's owner, told reporters the wall of water was likely 14 to 15 meters (45 to 48 feet) higher than normal sea levels -- easily overwhelming the plant's 5-meter seawall.

The footage was was shot from high ground about 900 meters south of the plant by a worker who evacuated before the tsunami hit, the Tokyo Electric Power Company said in releasing the six-second clip.

Photos released by the company showed shattered windows, scattered papers and dangling ceiling tiles throughout the plant's now-empty office annex. Two workers were killed in the basement of the No. 4 reactor's turbine plant when the tsunami struck, and their bodies were recovered only last week. [ CNN ]

 
Ivory Coast mercenaries 'are burning people alive'
The News - War-Draft
April 09, 2011

More than 100 bodies, some of them burned alive, have been found in the Ivory Coast in the past 24 hours, the UN said today.

About 60 were killed in one attack and about 40 people in another that appeared to have been carried out by Liberian mercenaries, said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

He added that "all the incidents appear at least partly ethnically motivated" and that there were reports of "smaller scale killings in other places that have yet to be investigated".

Some victims were burned while others were thrown down a well.

 
Food and gas prices on the rise
The News - Economy
April 08, 2011
food gas prices rise

Whether it's at the pump or in checkout line at the grocery store, cost of living items are on the rise.

A survey by the Wisconsin Farm Bureau shows food prices are up 5 percent this year.

The bureau's 'Marketbasket' survey totals the cost of 16 food items. In the first three months of 2011, the total was $48. That is up $2.39 from December's price for the same items.

Topping the survey's list

  • Apples increased 24 cents (18 percent) to $1.52 per pound.
  • A gallon of whole milk increased 50 cents (17 percent) to $3.41 per gallon.
  • One pound of bagged salad increased 33 cents (15 percent) to $2.48.
  • A five-pound bag of flour increased 25 cents (12 percent) to $2.34.
  • One pound of ground chuck climbed 32 cents (10 percent) to $3.41.
 
4.2 magnitude quake hits north-central Arkansas
The News - Current Events
April 08, 2011
A magnitude 4.2 earthquake has been recorded in north-central Arkansas - the largest quake in the region since two natural gas companies agreed to close nearby injection wells last month.

The U.S. Geological Survey recorded the quake at 9:56 a.m. Wednesday about three miles northeast of Greenbrier. It's 1 of 10 quakes the U.S.G.S has recorded in the region since a 3.9 magnitude quake recorded at 6:11 p.m. Wednesday.

Greenbrier police dispatcher Steve Priddy said there are no reports of damage or injuries. Seven tremors of 3.0 magnitude or greater have struck the region since the closure of the injection wells by Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy and Clarion operating.

 
Asteroid 2005 YU55 - Huge Asteroid to Pass Near Earth in November
The News - Science-Astronomy
April 08, 2011
asteroid yu55 neo near earth object

Mark your calendars for an impressive and upcoming flyby of an asteroid that’s one of the larger potentially perilous space rocks in the heavens – in terms of smacking the Earth in the future.

It’s the case of asteroid 2005 YU55, a round mini-world that is about 1,300 feet (400 meters) in diameter. In early November, this asteroid will approach Earth within a scant 0.85 lunar distances.

Due the object’s size and whisking by so close to Earth, an extensive campaign of radar, visual and infrared observations are being planned.

Asteroid 2005 YU55 was discovered by Spacewatch at the University of Arizona, Tucson’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory on Dec. 28, 2005. En route and headed our way, the cosmic wanderer is another reminder about life here on our sitting duck of a planet.

 
Are Mega Earthquakes on the Rise?
The News - Natural Disasters
April 08, 2011
mega earthquake

The devastating 2004 Indonesian tsunami, with its death toll of as many as 250,000 people, was caused by the first magnitude-9.0 earthquake since 1967. A succession of smaller but still destructive tremors in Haiti, Chile, and New Zealand — surpassed by this year's magnitude-9.0 quake in Japan — has some researchers wondering whether the number of large earthquakes is on the rise.

An earthquake represents the abrupt release of seismic strain that has built up over the years as plates of the Earth's crust slowly grind and catch against each other. Giant earthquakes live up to their fearsome name. The biggest ever recorded was the magnitude-9.5 Chile earthquake of 1960. It accounts for about a quarter of the total seismic strain released worldwide since 1900. In just three minutes, the recent quake in Japan unleashed one-twentieth of that global total according to geophysicist Richard Aster at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro.

The Indonesian quake "reinvigorated interest in these giants," said Aster, who is also president of the Seismological Society of America. The Chile and Japan earthquakes — along with a magnitude-9.2 quake in Alaska in 1964 — also triggered catastrophic tsunamis.

After a lull in large quakes in the 1980s and 1990s, we may now be in the middle of a new age of large earthquakes, Aster added.
 
California Earthquake Alarm - 5 years away
The News - Natural Disasters
April 08, 2011
california earthquake big one alarm

An earthquake early-warning system - like the one that saved lives last month in Japan - could be operating in California within five years - giving residents a full 60 seconds to prepare for a 'Big One,' leading seismic researchers said Tuesday.

Japan's warning system set alarms and cell phones sounding in Tokyo, allowing the city's schoolchildren and residents nearly a half-minute to duck and cover, said Richard Allen, assistant director of UC Berkeley's Seismological Laboratory.

Allen said teams of scientists have been working for more than a decade to develop a statewide warning system, and now it's time to complete the work. He estimated the system could be up and running at a cost of $80 million. Annual operating costs would be $20 million. [ SFGate ]

 
New York 'at risk' as seas rise
The News - Climate-Environment
April 08, 2011
new york rising sea flooding

New York is a major loser and Reykjavik a winner from new forecasts of sea level rise in different regions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in 2007 that sea levels would rise at least 28cm (1ft) by the year 2100.

But this is a global average; and now a Dutch team has made what appears to be the first attempt to model all the factors leading to regional variations.

Other researchers say the IPCC's figure is likely to be a huge under-estimate.

Whatever the global figure turns out to be, there will be regional differences.

Ocean currents and differences in the temperature and salinity of seawater are among the factors that mean sea level currently varies by up a metre across the oceans - this does not include short-term changes due to tides or winds.

So if currents change with global warming, which is expected - and if regions such as the Arctic Ocean become less saline as ice sheets discharge their contents into the sea - the regional patterns of peaks and troughs will also change.

 
Powerful Space Explosion May Herald Star's Death By Black Hole
The News - Science-Astronomy
April 08, 2011
cosmic explosion black hole nova

A huge, powerful star explosion detonated in deep space last week — an ultra-bright conflagaration that has astronomers scratching their heads over exactly how it happened.

The explosion may be the death cry of a star as it was ripped apart by a black hole, scientists said. High-energy radiation continues to brighten and fade from the March 28 blast's location, about 3.8 billion light-years from Earth in the constellation Draco. 

Astronomers say they've never witnessed an explosion so bright, long-lasting and variable before, according to NASA officials.

The explosion looks like a gamma-ray burst — the most powerful type of explosion in the universe, which usually mark the destruction of a massive star — but the flaring emissions from these dramatic events never last more than a few hours, researchers said.

"We know of objects in our own galaxy that can produce repeated bursts, but they are thousands to millions of times less powerful than the bursts we are seeing now," said Andrew Fruchter, of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, in a statement today (April 7). "This is truly extraordinary." [ Space.com ]

 
Forecasters boldly predict 16 named Atlantic storms, 9 hurricanes...
The News - Natural Disasters
April 06, 2011
hurricane predictions 2011 disaster

If meteorological history repeats, it should be a quiet hurricane season in Florida this year - even though conditions are ripe for more than a dozen named Atlantic basin storms.

That sums up Wednesday’s Colorado State University forecast that calls for 16 named tropical storms and hurricanes. The team says nine will become hurricanes, meaning sustained winds will reach 74 mph. Five are expected to be major hurricanes - Categories 3, 4 or 5 - with maximum wind speeds of 111 mph or greater.

Forecasters Phil Klotzbach and William Gray at CSU’s Tropical Meteorology Project said this year is shaping up like those of 1955, 1996, 1999, 2006 and 2008 based on oceanic and atmospheric features observed during February and March and compared to those five years.

 
New Threats at Japanís Nuclear Plant
The News - Climate-Environment
April 05, 2011
japan nuclear crisis disaster radiation fallout

United States government engineers sent to help with the ongoing crisis in Japan are warning that the troubled nuclear plant there is facing a wide array of fresh threats that could persist indefinitely, and that in some cases are expected to increase as a result of the very measures being taken to keep the plant stable, according to a confidential assessment prepared by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Among the new threats that were cited in the assessment, dated March 26, are the mounting stresses placed on the containment structures as they fill with radioactive cooling water, making them more vulnerable to rupture in one of the aftershocks rattling the site after the earthquake and tsunami of March 11. The document also cites the possibility of explosions inside the containment structures due to the release of hydrogen and oxygen from seawater pumped into the reactors, and offers new details on how semimolten fuel rods and salt buildup are impeding the flow of fresh water meant to cool the nuclear cores. 

In recent days, workers have grappled with several side effects of the emergency measures taken to keep nuclear fuel at the plant from overheating, including leaks of radioactive water at the site and radiation burns to workers who step into the water. The assessment, as well as interviews with officials familiar with it, points to a new panoply of complex challenges that water creates for the safety of workers and the recovery and long-term stability of the reactors. 

 
Seawater radiation way past limit
The News - Climate-Environment
April 05, 2011
seawater radiation japan nuclear disaster

Radioactive iodine-131 readings taken from seawater near the water intake of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant's No. 2 reactor reached 7.5 million times the legal limit, Tokyo Electric Power Co. admitted Tuesday.

The sample that yielded the high reading was taken Saturday, before Tepco announced Monday it would start releasing radioactive water into the sea, and experts fear the contamination may spread well beyond Japan's shores to affect seafood overseas.

The unchecked radioactive discharge into the Pacific has prompted experts to sound the alarm, as cesium, which has a much longer half-life than iodine, is expected to concentrate in the upper food chain. [ JAPAN TIMES ]

 
Arctic ozone layer hole is 'growing at record rate'
The News - Science-Astronomy
April 05, 2011
arctic ozone layer growing
  • Ozone layer 'suffers record levels of depletion due to the cold winter and substances in the atmosphere'

Scientists have warned of increased exposure to cancer-causing ultra-violet rays after recording 'unprecedented' levels of Arctic ozone loss in recent months.

The atmospheric layer which shields life from the sun's rays has suffered record levels of depletion due to the cold winter and ozone-depleting substances in the atmosphere, it is claimed.

The World Meteorological Organization revealed today that ozone column loss had reached 40 per cent this spring. A spokesperson for the WMO said: 'Depletion of the ozone... has reached an unprecedented level over the Arctic this spring because of the continuing presence of ozone-depleting substances in the atmosphere and a very cold winter in the stratosphere. [ DAILYMAIL ]

 
Chicxulub crater - focus for ocean drilling plans
The News - Science-Astronomy
April 05, 2011
chicxulub asteroid crater drilling

A plan to study the Chicxulub crater by boring 1.5km into the sea bed is among the highlights of ocean drilling projects proposed for the next decade.

Chicxulub, in Mexico, was carved out by the asteroid strike that killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

The Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) also plans expeditions to study earthquakes and ancient climate, and says the need is greater than ever.

Another long-term aim is to penetrate the Earth's mantle for the first time.  IOPD scientists were outlining their plans at the European Geosciences Union (EGU) annual meeting in Vienna. However, they cautioned that funding needs to be secured for the next generation of expeditions. [ BBC NEWS ]

 
More than 1 in 10 nuclear plants at risk from earthquakes / tsunamis
The News - Natural Disasters
April 02, 2011
nuclear plant earthquake tsunami disaster risk

Scores of nuclear power plants worldwide are at risk from tsunamis or earthquakes similar to the natural disasters that weakened Japan's Fukushima reactors, according to new research. Many at-risk plants are in countries less prepared to cope with a disaster than Japan.

Seventy-six operating power stations in Japan, Taiwan, China, South Korea, India, Pakistan and the US are located in areas close to coastlines deemed vulnerable to tsunamis.

Of 442 nuclear power stations globally, more than one in 10 are situated in places deemed to be at high or extreme risk of earthquakes – in Japan, the US, Taiwan, Armenia and Slovenia – according to a new study by the analysts Maplecroft.

Helen Hodge, Maplecroft's natural hazards analyst, said: "Although Japanese nuclear facilities are particularly exposed, other countries could also face similar risks. South Korea, Taiwan, southern China, India, Pakistan and the west coast of the US have operating or planned nuclear facilities on tsunami-exposed coastlines, while nuclear sites in areas of high or extreme risk of earthquakes can be found in western US, Taiwan, Armenia, Iran and Slovenia."

 
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